A handful of Mountain View elementary schools were forced to do some last-minute shuffling shortly before classes began this fall, as parents sought to transfer students out of two schools that failed to meet state-defined performance targets last year.
The schools' failure to hit those targets, along with the consequences of those failures, have concerned parents and caused school officials to debate whether receiving federal aid -- which is tied to meeting the performance goals -- is worth it.
For two consecutive years, Monta Loma and Theuerkauf elementary schools have failed to hit Annual Yearly Progress, or AYP, goals. The goals are set by the California Department of Education, and are used by federal education officials as a yardstick when evaluating public schools receiving Title I funding under the No Child Left Behind Act.
As such, the two schools went into "Program Improvement" during the 2009-10 year school year. Such schools are required to allow transfer requests from parents who want their children to switch to another school in the district.
Craig Goldman, superintendent of the district, is concerned that parents are getting the wrong idea about Monta Loma and Theuerkauf.
"The No Child Left Behind rules basically identify the entire school as a program improvement school," Goldman said. "There's a false impression that's created that the school is not meeting its overall improvement goals."
This year, Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent of Mountain View Whisman School District, said the district received 70 requests for student transfers, but only 62 kids ended up in a different school.
The district had a little more than a week to move 62 students out of Monta Loma and Theuerkauf and into one of four other schools throughout the district. Parents of students at Monta Loma and Theuerkauf were given 10 days from Aug. 2 to decide if they wished to transfer their children to one of four schools -- Landels, Bubb, Huff or Stevenson.
Comments left on the Voice's Town Square forum were critical of Monta Loma and Theuerkauf, due to the Program Improvement designation.
Lairon, however, defended the schools, noting that Monta Loma only missed its special education AYP goals. In some cases, she said, the special education students at Monta Loma were given the same tests as non-special education students. That's not fair, she said. "By definition, special education kids are lower performing."
Theuerkauf, Lairon said, fell short because its Hispanic and English language learners subgroups -- which are often one and the same -- did not score proficiently in the English-Language Arts AYP category.
"It's very challenging to make it with all your subgroups," Lairon said.
In order to meet AYP goals, all of a given school's subgroups must score proficiently in both AYP categories -- English-Language Arts and mathematics. A subgroup is a "numerically significant" demographic within the student body, and are generally classified by race, socio-economic disadvantages, or by disability.
"It really is a headache, but schools are desperate for money," Lairon said of the requirements to be eligible for Title I funds.
Nonetheless, Lairon said, more and more school districts are dropping out of the Title I program as it becomes harder to meet the rising Annual Yearly Progress targets set by the state. By the 2013-14 school year, the California Department of Education will require that all subgroups achieve 100 percent efficiency in English-Language Arts and Mathematics. Lairon said that is unreasonable.
"The tests aren't written so that students can score 100 percent," she said. "Once it hits 100 percent, no one is going to make it."
Goldman said that this year, he and the district board of trustees would be considering whether continuing to receive Title I funding under No Child Left Behind is worth it for district.
He is particularly concerned that the "false impression" created by the Program Improvement designation may be working to segregate schools.
Lairon said that the parents who ask to have their children transferred are predominantly white and Asian. Hispanic families and low-income families tend not to ask for transfers out of Program Improvement schools, he said.